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02 January 2020 20:33

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Cars get trapped in tumbleweeds on Washington state highway

Unfortunate drivers in Washington found themselves struggling in all new conditions while traveling on New Year's Eve. While combinations of wind, rain, snow or ice often force road closures in January, the culprit from Tuesday night and Wednesday morning was a new one: tumbleweeds. Starting around 9 p.m., local time, and extending into New Year's Day, portions of State Route 240 near West Richland, located in the south central part of the state, were shut down after strong winds blew hundreds of tumbleweeds onto the roadway. Photos and video from the incident showed numerous abandoned vehicles being unearthed on Wednesday morning. Drivers were forced to flee their cars and ring in the new year under far different circumstances than they likely intended. The wall of natural debris reportedly soared to heights of 20 to 30 feet and closed the highway in both eastbound and westbound directions, according to Washington State Patrol Trooper Chris Thorsan.

"In the 20 years that I have worked here, I have never seen it as bad as this," Thorson told National Public Radio. "I've never seen six to eight cars, including a semi-truck, actually stopped and trapped on a highway because of tumbleweeds." The strong winds continued into Wednesday morning, only complicating the cleanup efforts for crews. "The strongest winds were recorded shortly after 5 a.m. Wednesday morning, when a rain shower moved through," Deger said. "The duration of the strong winds was likely a contributing factor to the hundreds of tumbleweeds that built up and buried cars." While no injuries were reported, the tumbleweeds caused traffic nightmares and forced the state to utilize multiple snow plows and other forms of equipment to remove the weeds. Trooper Thorson told The Seattle Times that snow plows drove slowly in order to avoid crashing into potentially hidden, buried cars.

Thorson told a resident on Twitter that the vehicles became stuck when drivers were forced to slow down and eventually stop due to the thistles. Some people spent their New Year's Eve trapped on a Washington state highway after tumbleweeds blocked their route, authorities said. YakTriNews reported that the Washington State Patrol announced via Twitter at about 6:30 p.m. that night that State Route 240 was closed in both directions near West Richland. Trooper Sarah Clasen told KAPP-KVEW that vehicles were trapped in a pile of tumbleweeds that stood up to 15 feet (4.57 meters) tall. The state Department of Transportation used snow plows to clear the scene.

Trooper Chris Thorson said it took about 10 hours to clear the road, which opened again around 4:30 a.m. Wednesday. Thorson says five cars and one 18-wheel semi truck were trapped in the tumbleweeds. "People were still stuck at midnight and rung in the new year trapped under the weeds," Thorson said. Thorson said Wednesday that troopers found one abandoned car that was trapped in the tumbleweeds at daylight but no one was inside. We partner with third party advertisers, who may use tracking technologies to collect information about your activity on sites and applications across devices, both on our sites and across the Internet.

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Thorson posted video footage and several photos of what he called "tumblegeddon" on Twitter, saying the tumbleweeds were piled "20-30 feet" (6.1 to 9.1 metres) high in some places. "In the 20 years that I have worked here, I have never seen it as bad as this," Thorson told NPR. "I've never seen six to eight cars, including a semi-truck, actually stopped and trapped on a highway because of tumbleweeds." A motorist sits in his vehicle while transportation workers try to dig it out from a pile of tumbleweeds in Washington state on Dec. 31, 2019. Thorson said tumbleweeds occasionally interfere with traffic on SR 240 because it runs through a desert plateau. "The only time they really become an issue is when we have high winds," he said. The trouble likely started when a few tumbleweeds got caught in bushes at the edge of the road, Thorson said. Cars slowed down to avoid the weeds, then strong wind blew more weeds onto the road, effectively burying all the stationary cars. Police started receiving calls about the tumbleweed traffic jam around 6:30 p.m. State troopers and transportation workers arrived at the scene to find some of the vehicles completely hidden from view. Authorities shut down the road and brought in heavy plows to help remove the tumbleweeds. A plow arrives at the scene of a traffic jam caused by tumbleweeds in Washington state on Dec. 31, 2019. "A pretty incredible sight," the Washington State Department of Transportation East tweeted after the road had been cleared. Police say there were no collisions or injuries, although one driver abandoned her car at the scene. Enlarge Image Washington State Department of Transportation Drivers in Washington state are used to contending with rainy conditions, but a different sort of road hazard appeared this week: a freakish storm of tumbleweeds. State Route 240 in eastern Washington shut down on New Year's Eve when a massive pile of wind-blow tumbleweeds inundated the roadway, trapping cars and a semitruck in piles of plants up to 30 feet (9 meters) high. Chris Thorson, public information officer for Washington State Patrol District 3, tweeted a video of workers clearing the spiky plants from around an abandoned car. #tumblegeddon After 10 hours of SR 240 being closed last night on New Year's Eve, it was opened around 0430 thanks to @WSDOT_East We still have one abandon car trapped in the tumbleweeds that was found at daylight, luckily no one was in it. The Washington State Department of Transportation was able to clear the road after 10 hours with the help of a snow plow, but continued to caution drivers on the conditions as of Wednesday. "Please take care if you choose to travel through this area as winds continue to move the tumbleweeds around," the agency tweeted. They will be patrolling through this evening to help keep the road open to traffic. Please take care if you choose to travel through this area as winds continue to move the tumbleweeds around.